(In commemoration of Sayadaw U Ottama’s Day, 9th September)
I, as a Rakhine national, was much delighted to hear that U Maung Nyo, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative of Sittway Township, submitted a proposal on changing the name of “Kandaw Mingalar Park” in Yangon to that of U Ottama Park to the 12th regular session of the 1st Pyithu Hluttaw held on 23rd January, 2015, that U Khaing Maung Yee, a Pyithu Hluttaw representative of Ahlon Township, discussed his proposal in support and that all other representatives approved of it with one voice. To the best of my knowledge, this park was opened with the name of “ U Ottama Park” by U Ba Saw, the religious minister of the Pyihtaungsu Government on the 17th January 1962 to commemorate a patriotic Rakhine Sayadaw U Ottama who first kindled the flames of patriotism and anti-colonialist spirit which lay dormant and latent in the minds of Myanmars for many years (The Mandaing Daily dated 18-1-1962 mentioned the opening ceremony of U Ottama Park held at Kandaw Min Park near the southern cause-way of the Shwedagon Pagoda). But it was turned into Kan Daw Mingalar Park in the early 1970s. At any cost, due to such re-acknowledgement of Kandaw Mingalar Park as U Ottama Park, the Rakhines would no doubt feel as if they recovered their cherished property which had been apart from them for about half a century. This also means the transparency of the Union Government to national races and efficiency and effectiveness of the Hluttaw. What is more, this is a sort of solace to the Rakhines who have been hit severely by some conflicts and wide-spread floods recently. As a stanza of the Mangala Sutta which says “Honouring those who are due is auspiciousness” goes, honouring Sayadaw U Ottama by changing the name of Kandaw Mingalar Park to his is auspicious.
Sayadaw U Ottama was the embodiment of anti-colonialism. He generated a great wave of patriotism among the Myanmar youths who carried on with Myanmar independence struggles until Myanmar restored her independence on 4th January 1948. He was, therefore, termed the Gandhi of Myanmar. The British officers treated in the servile manner even by educated Myanmar people in those days were traumatized by his seditious speeches. Especially, due to his newspaper open letter titled “Craddock get out of Burma (Myanmar)”, patriotism of the then submissive Myanmar people flared up as the live charcoal covered with a thin layer of ash was aflame. He was a locomotive personality in the political campaigns launched by the GCBA and the YMBA. He was, therefore, under the constant surveillance of the police due to his heroic, fervent anti-colonialist activities. Moreover, he, for his great erudition, became the first Myanmar who served as Pali and Sanskrit professor at Buddhist Academy in Japan. He was a polyglot well-versed in nine languages—Pali, Sanskrit, Hindhi, Bengli, Nagari, Tibetan, Japanese, English and French.
Sayadaw U Ottama was born of father U San Mra and mother Daw Aung Kwra Pru in Rupa Quarter in Sittway on 14th December, 1879. His childhood name was Paw Tun Aung. He had a younger brother named Kyaw Tun Aung and a younger sister named Ma Ein Soe. At the age of five years, he started to learn at a vernacular school. But when he came to nine years, he moved to an English-Myanmar school in Sittway. By nature, he was candid, resolute, decisive, stubborn and industrious. He never inveigled anyone nor prattled away about frivolities but was outspoken in everything. Although he was amenable to good advice of others, he used to take great exception to any insulting comments on him. So some people say that he had an ambivalent character. Since childhood, he had been so ambitious for his learning that he tried to stand first in every examination. Once, as he stood second, he, much to his indignation, threw away the prize into the Kaladan River. While studying in the fifth standard, a Christian priest, who noticed his unbridled enthusiasm for learning, asked his parents for permission to take him to India for further studies. As the parents could not bear to part with him, they dropped him out of school to prevent him from running away for better education and from entering government service when he came of age. And they brought him under the tutelage of Sayadaw Tejarama, the presiding Sayadaw of the Shwezedi Monastery in Sittway, and engaged him in the pursuit of Buddhist scriptures, when he came to the sixth standard.
At the age of 15 years, he, together with his younger brother, was initiated as a novice with Shwezedi Sayadaw as his preceptor. He was given the title of U Ottama and his younger brother that of Ariya. Then he disrobed himself, went to Toungoo, sat for the Pali texts recitation examination and came out first. A wealthy Shan woman, therefore, adopted him as son and dispatched him to India. At the age of 19 years, he passed the entrance examination to Calcutta University. Then he returned to Myanmar and learnt the Three Baskets of the Dhamma (Tipitaka) under the guidance of Yesagyo Sayadaw Ganthasara at the Pansaw Pariyatti Learning Centre in Pakokku. When he reached the age of 20 years, he was ordained as a monk with the support of U Tun Aung Kyaw, the representative of Bombay Burma Company. Then he went over to India for the second time and studied there English, Sanskrit and Nagari at Hindu College for four years. While in India, he, on the request of Director of Indian Archaeological Department, stayed with him and discussed Buddhist scriptures with him for about one year. In April 1904, he toured England and France with the aids of the archaeological director. During his stay in England, he learnt Law and Political Science from U May Aung and came back to India in 1905. While staying in India, he undertook political activities in communication with the Congress Party. Though he was offered professorship by Calcutta University, he rejected it to avoid dealings with Indian Government. But he acted as professor of Buddhism and Sanskrit at the national college established by the students who boycotted Calcutta University for one year. When he returned to Myanmar in 1906 to launch political activities, he was always shadowed by the police. So he could not realize his purpose.Therefore, he on 14th February 1907 voyaged to Japan via Singapore. He got contact with Principal of Tokyo Buddhist Academy and was appointed professor of Pali and Sanskrit. While he was in the capacity of professor, he studied Japanese. He also made the acquaintance of Dr. Sun Yat Sen who came to Japan and discussed the liberation of China with him. In 1910, he returned to Myanmar with an eye to embarking on anti-colonialist instigation. He contributed his speeches and articles on politics and education to the Myanmar Taryar Newspaper published by U Kyaw Yin, an executive member of the Mandalay YMBA and the Sasananugaha Association. As Myanmar political movements did not gain momentum, he went back to Japan in 1912, bringing with him some Myanmar youths so that they could pursue modern technology there. During his stay in Japan, he studied the Japanese and wrote a book entitled “Biography of Japan”. In 1915, he came back again to Myanmar, toured Sittway, Yenanchaung, etc and went over to Japan for the third time.
He through Japan proceeded to America, Australia, Java, etc and returned to Myanmar at the end of the year. As the police kept vigilant against him, he had to stay at the Suriya Newspaper Publication House. From then onwards, he delivered his seditious speeches which could arouse patriotism and the spirit of safeguarding the Sasana. He gained popularity with the assistance of the Suriya Newspaper. Thus he engaged in anti-colonialist movements, sojourning alternately in Myanmar and India. On 25th March 1921, he delivered a speech on comments on field tax and capitation tax at Sukalat Village in Dedaye Township, was arrested by the police and sentenced to an 18-month imprisonment. But he was released on 26 June 1922. Then he, together members of the GCBA, continued campaigning against the Dyarchy Rule and for the Home Rule. In 1925, he roamed England, France, Germany, Netherland, Swedan, Demark, Norway, and other European countries.
“Granting the decision to change the name of “Kandaw Mingalar Park” to its original name
“U Ottama Park”
by the Union Government and
the Hluttaw is a big welcome”
On 16th August 1924, he, at the invitation of the some GCBA members, went to the Eindawyar Phaya in Mandalay by train. There, a riot between the audience and the police occurred. Some GCBA leaders were arrested and had to serve some terms of imprisonment. He was also evicted immediately from Mandalay to Yangon. On 24 September 1924, he delivered a speech on taxes at the corner of Phonegyi Road and Gyungyi Road. He was again arrested and given a five-year term of imprisonment with labour on charge of disturbing the taxation system. During the trial, the court was overcrowded by the audience. Therefore, some lay people and the monks were driven out by the magistrate. So they, out of dissatisfaction for the British Government, held a meeting at the Fytche Square now known as the Maha Bandoola Park. They were dispersed forcibly by some police, and this claimed some injuries, causing a loud clarion call among the people to fight against the colonialists. In February 1927, he was released in February 1927. Then, on 20 March 1927, he attended and addressed the 14th meeting of the GCBA led by U Soe Thein indignantly. He was again arrested at Kyaikto Railway Station together with U Candobhasa on his return from the Kyaikhtiyoe Pagoda in 1928. When he was released, he was afflicted with diabetes and grew old. And at that time, some reputed politicians were manoeuouvring for good positions. He, fed up with them, left behind the politics, plying between Myanmar and India.
But just before the election which would decide on the separation of Myanmar from India scheduled to be held in 1937, the Ngar-pwin-saing Party (Five-leader Party) headed by U Ba Pe approached and brought him round to help his party by giving his fiery talks to the public. Then the party transported him by plane to the towns where he delivered speeches. His speeches were so direct, forth-right and powerful that the party won a thunderous applause of them. As a result, the Ngar-pwin-saing Party won a landslide victory in the election. But due to petty jealousy among the elected candidates of the party, U Ba Pe would not able to form a government. Dr. Ba Maw from the Sinyethar Party (Poor man’s Party) became prime-minister with a coalition cabinet. Although some politicians who had been assisted by Sayadaw U Ottama became ministers, secretaries and consultants, he, with no one to look after him, had to go about in Yangon, shabbily dressed, under-fed and oppressed by old age and disease. Often did he have to partake of some pieces of water-melon disposed of at rubbish-heaps on road-sides. He sometimes claimed Myanmar and English newspapers from the publishing houses and read them under shady trees. Only when he, oppressed by the disease and malnutrition, fell down fainted, some philanthropic people put him to the Yangon General Hospital. Then he, with the assistance of U Ba Kalay, who was in charge of the Suriya Newspaper Publishing House, was transferred to the Nyaungdon Monastery and there Myanmar indigenous physician U Bo Shwe continued to mete out treatment to him. But, he, at the age of 60 years, passed away on 9th September in 1939.
No doubt, it was Sayadaw U Ottama who sowed the seed of anti-colonialism in the hearts of the Myanmar people. He sacrificed all his life for the Sasana, the country and the people. Indeed, he refreshed the race, the language and the Sasana which were weakened and withered under the servitude of colonialists. So he is worthy of honour and remembrance of the people. His selfless, assiduous contributions should be put on the record. Therefore, the author think that granting the decision to change the name of “Kandaw Mingalar Park” to its original name “U Ottama Park” by the Union Government and the Hluttaw is a big welcome to be extended by the entire national peoples, especially by the Rakhines.
Htin Aung, Dr. A History of Burma, Colombia University Press, New York and London, 1967
Maung Zeya, Sayadaw U
Ottama, Pioneer of Independence Struggles, Pancagan Publishing House, Mandalay, 2013